An Interview with Ringo Deathstarr

Thursday, 6th January 2011

Originally written for Culturedeluxe magazine. Photograph taken by Andy Thorn.

Some bands never learn. Having braved the British winter in 2009, Austin's Ringo Deathstarr arrived this afternoon in frozen Aberdeen and they haven't removed their hats and scarves since. Frontman Elliott Frazier is wearing a woollen hat that only just covers a voluminous mop of curly hair and there is an audible shiver in his voice.

'It only took four hours [to get here] I guess, some bridges were shut down. I was expecting it to be, like, eight, the way it started yesterday. It's the second time we've been over to the UK. The same time of year as well.' He adds with a shiver, 'We'd much rather come in Summer, it's just too darn cold all the time. The tour's going pretty well though, no-one's died.'
Bassist Alex pipes up, 'It snowed last year [in Texas] for a day, but it doesn't really stick to the ground.'
'We just get it over and done with in a day.' agrees drummer Daniel.
'Oh, the van got stuck. We tried to dig the snow away using our shoes and anything we could find.' says Alex.
'Yeah, in the parking lot of where we were staying last night.' confirms Elliott. 'We spent an hour trying to get it out and gave up. It was in Leith. We played Glasgow a few days ago and the first band to play were from Fife and they cancelled and we thought 'oh this is going to suck' but there was actually a good turn out.'
'We played with Ursula Minor and they were really good.' says Alex.
'We like Scotland,' agrees Elliott. 'It's one of the best places in the UK. But, we just want to come back when it's warm.'

The Texan three-piece have been supporting British indie veterans The Wedding Present for a number of shows on their latest tour, having played three shows with them in their homeland. 'They must have liked us enough to ask us to tour again.' says Elliott. 'Do we have a UK-influenced sound? How can you not? Being a normal person...' At this point I relate a story about the first time I heard a demo from their debut UK EP (released through SVC Records) and its remarkably similarity to a certain Jesus and Mary Chain. The band begin to giggle.

'We get that all the time, but it's a compliment.' smiles Alex.
'At that time it was just a bunch of people playing really quiet music so we thought "fuck all this".' agrees Elliott. 'When I first started I wanted to make music like The Ramones.'

The band join an increasing line-up of young American bands who seem largely influenced by the sound of Britain a quarter of a century ago. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are already working towards their second full LP (Ringo Deathstarr release their debut through Club AC-30 next February) while one of their offshoots, The Depreciation Guild, released a split single with Ringo Deathstarr last year.

'We're like their insane, drug-addicted uncle I guess.' deadpans Elliott. Alex leaps in, laughing defensively.
'No! We're incredibly chilled, none of us have tattoos or really ever do drugs. The most we ever do is drink the free beer!'

With a sound that channels the ghosts of several British acts, it's not surprising the band are gaining exposure over here. But the question remains how they are being received in their homeland and further afield.

'We've been on East Coast tours mostly and went out to LA with The Wedding Present,' explains Elliott. 'But just now we're getting some press in the US other than just the small music magazines which we've had in the past. We just had a feature in Nylon which is a big fashion magazine and we just got a record label over there so when the album comes out we'll get more exposure.' He pauses. 'It'll be in Japan too, we'll do a world tour.'
'We've been to Japan before, it was amazing.' says Alex. 'It's a completely different world, it's crazy. They're so into everything! It's awesome to be around kids who tell you you're super at everything you're doing. They're so enthusiastic about music over there, every kid in the place will be dancing.'
Elliott agrees, 'If they like a type of music they go to the extreme and try to live a lifestyle based around it. They know everything; every minute detail of shoegaze. Then they ask us and we say "well, yeah we don't really know". They say "how could you not?"'

It's a nation which thrives upon kitsch statements and it's clearly one the band are suited to, what with some of their format choices for potential future singles.

Elliott: 'We'll probably do a limited cassette single of 'Imagine Hearts' with a bunch of weird experimental tracks on it. Will it be on iTunes too? No, we'll have to give it away for free as there are some songs with samples, it wouldn't really be legal if we sold it somewhere. If you donate five pounds you'll get it for free basically. Actually, they were making cassette walkmans until last month.'
'A lot of it comes out when we're in the studio,' says Alex. 'Someone will offer up an idea and then all of us will say "what if we did this? and this? and this?" and it envolves into an entire song.'
'There aren't really any rules about it.' says Elliott. 'If someome has something that makes another person in the band think "oh, that's cool..." I've written some songs around samples, but then we try to make our own versions of the samples. We'll take out drumbeats and then make our own - something similar. We make sure that the original sample isn't in there.' A broad grin breaks out on his face. 'But on the cassette you'll see.'
'There's a guy in the studio we call computer boy who does all the mixing.' says Alex. 'There's a lot of goofing around and some cool stuff happens and we think "hey we could actually use that". We like to experiment with all sorts of weird stuff.'
Elliott agrees, 'Mistakes happen and you're like "that sounded awesome". But we have a problem now...there's one song and I can't remember how to play it at all. When we get home it's on my to-do list to figure out how to play it. We lost a member so we use backing tracks now on some songs. Instead of gaining a new guitar player I taught Alex to play the guitar in about a day. She already plays the banjo, if you can play bass and banjo you can play guitar.'
Alex smiles, 'I do double duty. It's kinda cool though, I like switching instruments.'
'All three of us can play enough stuff,' continues Elliott. 'Daniel can play anything, so even if we had to have a pure drum machine going and all three of us on guitars then we could do that.'

Well, it worked for Echo and the Bunnymen.